This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Like so many, we were saddened to hear of the bizarre and unexpected tragedy that befell Gastronomy co-founder John Williams last weekend, and we would be remiss if we did not extend our deepest condolences to his family in their time of grief. However, rather than focus on the events which marked the end of his life, we want to pay tribute to the extraordinary life John lived and describe the profound effect it had on ours.
It's been nearly 20 years since most of us met John Williams largely through our close friendship with John's nephew, Brady Larsen, and based on our mutual association with the Sigma Chi fraternity at the University of Utah. As undergraduate students at the U., we were fortunate to interact with John at both university and fraternity alumni functions. Always impeccably dressed and stately in his manner, John was a genuine role model to us and someone to look up to. He was a real estate tycoon, a restaurateur and an overall symbol of success in the community. And he happened to be gay.
In our college days, most of us were and still remain active members of the LDS Church and had recently returned from proselytizing missions for the church when we first got to know John. To say that our sensitivity to the LGBT community was unrefined at the time would be an understatement. In fact, for the majority of us, we had no meaningful interaction with an openly gay or lesbian adult prior to getting to know John. In many respects, growing up in Utah and being generally unfamiliar with the LGBT lifestyle led us to buy into common misperceptions and stereotypes.
Those misconceptions largely faded away thanks to our association with John. In interacting with him, we learned more about tolerance and equality than we ever could through any textbook or sermon. John was warm, considerate and inclusive. He greeted us largely directionless college kids at the time with little to offer by name and knew something particular about each and every one of us. During our college days, John generously provided us with meals and hospitality at his Gastronomy restaurants, and even after graduation allowed us to use his banquet halls to host graduations, birthdays and weddings for little or no cost. Many of us were literally on John's payroll at one time or another, working as waiters, busboys or valets at one of his many restaurants. This may have been John's greatest act of charity: trusting unproven college kids to park his customers' Mercedes and Porcshes.
Through it all, John was the consummate gentlemen, handling himself with the utmost class through his understated example. And he was one of us.
Society's attitudes about LGBT issues have evolved for the better in the years since we met John. Now, perhaps more than ever, equality across the board seems more attainable than it did just a few years ago. John was well ahead of the curve in navigating the perilous waters that have led to the social sea change we are now experiencing.
In our historically conservative community, John managed to break down barriers and promote tolerance of all people regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation and foster understanding across the board. And he did it with his trademark class. In fighting for equality, never did he scream, yell or riot. Instead, he created community institutions which he shared with people from all walks of life. He found common ground through simple friendship and by genuinely caring for his fellow man.
We learned through his example and are each better people for knowing him. His contributions to this community over the years are nothing short of extraordinary and will be recognized as such as his legacy lives on and as society's attitudes about issues of equality evolve in the future. He will be greatly missed.
Brent Moore, Peter Watkins, Brennan Moss, Bradley Smith, Z. Ryan Pahnke, Robert Kingsford and Eric Benson.